The skies are a little bluer this morning and the temperature is hovering around the late 20s mark early doors. This morning we’re heading west, to the neighbouring towns of Rabat and Mdina. We take our chances at the bus station car park, just outside the city walls of Mdina but there are no spaces so we head around the edge of Rabat and find an on-road space a couple of minutes walk away. There is a deep booming sound. There are fireworks going off near to us at 10am. Malta takes their weekend festivals very seriously.
We walk uphill towards the centre of Rabat, past a Sunday market offering bras for 2€ and the type of garish clothing offered at every market around the world. My trusty Marco Polo guidebook had suggested that Rabat was a quiet town. We soon realise this is not the case as we emerge into the main square which is preparing for a huge festival. If Friday was St Peter and St Paul’s Day, today is all about the latter here in Rabat. We didn’t get the memo about wearing red today but this is definitely the colour of choice and every building and lamppost is festooned with bunting. We will not see the fireworks go off, but we will certainly hear them.
Yet just a couple of minutes walk and we are away from the bustling, vibrant party, and we are weaving our way around narrow streets with those beautiful doors and frontages so beloved by the Maltese. Rabat’s beauty is certainly underplayed in the guidebooks. And yet there is still the “silent city” of Mdina to explore.
We head to the city gates, with its arched entrance. This is the original Kings Landing, when Ned Stark had a head, Jaime Lannister had two hands, the king was a Yorkshireman and Robb Stark was going to be the best war tactician ever. Today, the city gates are lined with horse drawn carriages, their drivers trying to encourage tourists to part with a wad of euros in exchange for a tour around town. We prefer to get around under our own steam.
It’s marketed as a car-free city, but this isn’t the case – people still live and work in Mdina, and like everywhere else in Malta, car ownership is a given. But there are still enough narrow alleyways and streets which are wide enough for foot traffic or horse carriages only, and there are an abundance of pretty doors to goggle at. I happily don’t miss the “Instagram” door – the postcard shot of a blue door surrounded by pink flowers. In a complete about face to 2017 me, I demand a photograph of me in front of the door. Because no travel blogger has EVER done that before…
Temperatures are soaring so we grab a gelato from Fior di Latte and sit under the shade of the trees at the Bastion viewpoint. And then it’s back for another spot of alley-wandering and door-photographing before heading out of Mdina and back into Rabat. The early afternoon sun is taking its toll on me, I need rehydration, shade and food. In any order. We consider pastizzi from Crystal Palace – purported to be the best in Malta, but instead opt for the artisan deli and cafe Ta’Doni. A traditonal ftira and glass of white wine and I have my second wind. Which is a good time to regain it as it’s festival time.
The streets are blocked by red-clad people, ticker tape (shredded paper) is being thrown from balconies, and a brass band has struck up. I don’t know what everyone is singing and chanting, but it’s catchy. And then it’s over, the crowds disperse and religious icons are being wheeled around on electric vans. The only sign of anything untoward is the sea of shredded paper. I may or may not have a million small paper cuts on my be-sandalled feet.
So far Rabat has been the biggest surprise of our Maltese trip so far – and in a good way. Malta has festivals and celebrations every weekend during the summer so it’s well worth planning a trip to one if you get the chance. And Mr Fletche managed to fit in some more door shots. This time without me standing in front of them.
It’s a lazy afternoon for us, as we have plans to return back to Marsaxlokk in the evening to sample some of that amazing seafood we walked past yesterday. There is no shortage of seafront options, but we opt for The 3 Sisters after seeing it recommended in the Marco Polo guidebook. Mr Fletche goes for the sea bream option, whilst I can never resist working my way through a pot of fresh mussels. Sitting by the water, drinking a crisp chilled white wine, I finally get Malta. Today has been a beautiful day.
Celebrating festa with the locals was so much fun! Have you unexpectedly been caught up in celebrations whilst travelling? Let me know in the comments!
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I’m Emmalene, a 40 something with a passion for travel, theatre, food, drink and the occasional accidental hike! I’m a born-and-bred Birmingham native so expect lots of Brum content on here too…